by Joe Bollig
KANSAS CITY, Kan. — The state Capitol is a beehive buzzing with all kinds of special interests.
But the Catholic Church is not one of them, said the new executive director of the Kansas Catholic Conference.
“At its core, the Catholic Church in Kansas is not a special interest group,” said Gerald C. “Chuck” Weber Jr. “By its very nature, its mission — including public policy initiatives — is to seek the common good for all Kansans.”
The Catholic Church has a voice and something to say — to all citizens, as well as elected officials and officeholders.
“I think the Catholic Church has, in many ways, the answers to our cultural and political problems and challenges,” he said. “We just have to communicate to people that we are serving the common good of all people.”
Until recently, Weber (he prefers to be called “Chuck”) was a Republican state representative for the 85th District in Wichita, serving since January 2015.
His tenure as executive director begins on July 15, succeeding Michael Schuttloffel, who served in that role since 2008.
Weber will be the fifth executive director in the history of the Kansas Catholic Conference, which is the public policy office of the Catholic Church in Kansas and represents the four bishops of Kansas at the state Capitol.
Weber and his wife Cindy have been married since 1985, and have five children. They belong to the Church of the Resurrection in Wichita.
Weber was born in Fairbury, Nebraska, but his family moved around and he graduated from high school in Webster City, Iowa.
He graduated with a bachelor of arts in communication with minors in political science and English in 1981, from Franciscan-affiliated Briar Cliff University in Sioux City, Iowa.
“My main subject in college was basketball,” said Weber. “We had a very, very good basketball program there. My senior year we were number one in the nation in the NAIA division.”
Four guys on the team were drafted into the NBA. But Weber got to play a game with the Washington Generals — the perennial foil of the Harlem Globe Trotters. After that game, he received an offer to tour, but chose to concentrate on his career in broadcasting — and marry Cindy.
He went on to a career in television journalism as a reporter, anchor and executive. He also taught as an adjunct professor at Wichita State University and was a magazine editor.
Weber describes himself as a “cradle Catholic,” but also considers himself to be “a born-again Catholic.”
“I didn’t really connect with my faith until I was about 30 years old,” he said. “I was in Wichita, and I went through an RCIA formation program with a friend of mine who wanted to join the church. For the first time in my life, I fell in love with my faith.”
“I knew what Catholics did and how we acted, but I didn’t know why,” he continued. “When I was able to sit in a room and hear the Catholic faith unpacked — about why we did certain things, and the depth of the faith . . . that [became] a turning point in my life.”
At the same time, while working for the CBS affiliate in Wichita as a television reporter, he was assigned to cover the visit of Pope John Paul II in 1987. He and his wife attended a papal Mass in San Antonio.
“His words just spoke to our hearts,” he said. “It turned into a pilgrimage for us. That was the beginning of me taking a deeper search about what I was called to do.”
As he grew in his renewed faith, he found himself working on projects and jobs that involved the church.
He served as communications coordinator at the Spiritual Life Center of the Diocese of Wichita, was executive director of SaintMax Worldwide and opened his own media production company.
Weber entered politics to complete the term of Rep. Steve Brunk in January 2015. He won his first election in his own right in November 2016.
“Without a doubt,” he said, “I’d have to say that the passage of the Adoption Protection Act [in spring 2018] was the most influential and important piece of legislation that I was involved with.
“Not only was it great legislation for Kansas, on another level it opened my eyes to the struggle for religious liberty that is playing out across the country.”
Religious liberty is perhaps the number one issue Kansas Catholics and, indeed, all citizens face, he said. Other important issues involve the sanctity of human life and marriage.
As executive director of the conference, Weber wants to organize, educate and motivate Catholics about important issues. Politicians must be held accountable.
The number one challenge he faces, in terms of those three goals, is apathy.
“The one thing that [I and the bishops of Kansas] agree upon is that we’ve got to do a better job communicating to the faithful what is happening with the church and with attacks on the church, and the challenges we face,” he said.
“That will be very high on my list of priorities — what public policy issues are out there and how they impact their lives,” he added.
His vision crosses party lines.
“At the end of the day, there are not more than two or three people in the entire Legislature that I couldn’t sit down with and talk with,” he said.
And although he served as a Republican, when he returns to the Capitol, it will be as something altogether different.
“When I get to the Legislature, I’m not a Republican or a Democrat — I’m a Catholic,” he said. “I want to be able to sit down with everyone, no matter what party they are from, and find common ground.
“I want to find solutions that work for Kansas, but also meet the level of that common good that we seek through church teaching and Catholic social teaching.”